Truck safety advocates are rallying against proposals to allow longer and heavier tractor-trailers on American highways.
A bipartisan group of House members recently passed an amendment to H.R. 7 that will cut restrict the ability of trucking companies to fill the highways with heavier and more dangerous trucks.
The amendment also struck a provision in the bill called the “state option” that would have allowed states to individually increase the weight limit for trucks by 17,000 pounds from 80,000 to 97,000. Opponents of the state option argued that each state legislature would be intimidated into signing the increase for fear of being seen as anti-business.
Statistics show that the heavier the trucks get, the less safe the roads become. Even though highway crash fatalities fell in 2010 to their lowest numbers since the 1940s, truck crash fatalities jumped 8.7 percent. In 2010, there were 3,675 people killed in accidents involving trucks – up from 3,380 in 2009. In 2007, 802 truck drivers lost their life while performing their job. That made the trucking and transportation industry among the most dangerous in the country, according to the Truck Safety Coalition.
The coalition argues that truck drivers are asked to meet demanding schedules often without enough rest or time at home. The U.S. Department of Transportation recently revised rules about truck drivers and the amount of rest they receive to ensure that commercial drivers are safe on the roads.
The new hours-of-service rules reduce the total amount a driver is allowed to work in a seven-day period from 82 hours down to 70 hours. There are also new provisions requiring drivers to rest more at night when the body’s natural instinct is to sleep. The new hours-of-service rules will be enforced by fines to the truck drivers and the companies that hire them.
Trucking lobbyists are pushing for longer combination vehicles like triple-trailer trucks that could get more than 100 feet long and potentially weigh more than 100,000 pounds. There are also proposals for trucks called turnpike doubles that can get up to 120-feet long and weigh more than 135,000 pounds.
Double trailer trucks are significantly more likely to be involved in fatal highway crashes than traditional single-trailer trucks, according to the Truck Safety Coalition. The risk goes up 200 percent for highway crashes and it goes up 32 percent for highway fatalities when an additional trailer is tacked to the back of the first trailer.
Statistics from the Truck Safety Coalition indicate that trucks weighing 80,000 pounds get into fatal crashes about twice as often as those weighing only 50,000 pounds.